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Stay-at-home orders could mean more obese children, study says

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As if the childhood obesity epidemic isn’t bad enough, new research warns that over one million more American boys and girls stand to become obese if coronavirus-related school closures continue through the end of the year.

The culprit: a steep rise in sedentary behavior following the spring shutdown of school and afterschool sports and activities across all 50 states.

“If school closures continue to the end of 2020 — due to unsubdued community transmission of COVID-19 — the childhood obesity rate in the U.S. might further increase by 2.4 percent,” said study author Ruopeng An. He’s an assistant professor with the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

That translates into 1.27 million new childhood obesity cases by March 2021.

In the May 23 online edition of the Journal of Sport and Health Science, An stressed that childhood obesity is already a huge public health problem, affecting 13.7 million — nearly 19 percent — American kids aged 2 to 19, according to 2017-2018 statistics.

In addition, even pre-COVID-19, less than one-quarter of kids were meeting exercise guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency advises that children get at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity per day.

Will school closures make things even worse? To see, An ran a few possible scenarios through a complex computer simulation model.

The model relied on body mass index and obesity data collected in a 2011 study that tracked weight patterns among more than 15,500 children, from kindergarten through 5th grade.

Obesity trajectories were projected through March 2021 based on four possible scenarios. The first scenario assumed that school closures only lasted a couple of months, before being lifted in May.

A second option projected that beyond the two-month lockdowns, physical activity levels would plunge 10 percent throughout the summer. A third possibility envisioned additional school closures through October. And a final scenario explored what would happen if schools stayed shut through December.

All four scenarios were then compared to typical pre-pandemic obesity trends, after factoring in the kids’ preexisting activity and dietary habits.

An determined that just closing schools for two months — already a done deal in most parts of the country — will likely drive up childhood obesity by 0.64 percent by next March. That’s over and above what would happen under normal circumstances.

Scenario two would trigger a nearly 1 percent increase in pediatric obesity, while scenario three would result in a 1.7 percent jump.

And if school shutdowns last through December, the result would be a 2.4 percent rise across both genders and all races. The simulation predicted only a slightly higher risk for obesity among boys and among black and Hispanic children.

But Lona Sandon — program director in the department of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas — is not convinced.

“I have to say, I am skeptical. Not that this should not be a concern, but we have seen a lot of models lately that simply have not panned out,” she noted. “What evidence do we have to say that kids are not getting the same amount of physical activity that they did during a normal school day? They could actually be getting more activity while at home.”

Still, she and An agreed that there is value in parents making a concerted effort to help their kids eat well and stay active for however long the pandemic lasts.

An, for one, advocated limiting screen time. And he suggested that parents promote — and join in on — as much activity and exercise as possible.

Sandon, meanwhile, advised establishing both a family eating plan and a daily exercise routine.

“Home recess if you will. Take a walk/bike ride every day after lunch or dinner. Strap on the roller blades or jump on the skateboard and head to the park. Do a push-up, sit-up, mountain climber, or jumping jack challenge. Aim to do more jumping jacks each day until you reach 100 or more. Walk the dog a few times a day,” Sandon suggested.

But she cautioned parents against excessive food restriction or weight shaming. The goal, she said, is to “keep it fun.”

More information

There’s more about children and weight management at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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‘Green prescriptions’ could cancel mental health benefits for some

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So-called “green prescriptions” may end up being counterproductive for people with mental health conditions, researchers say.

Spending time in nature is believed to benefit mental health, so some doctors are beginning to “prescribe” outdoor time for their patients.

That led researchers to investigate whether being in nature helps actually does help people with issues such as anxiety and depression. They collected data from more than 18,000 people in 18 countries.

The takeaway: Time in nature does provide several benefits for people with mental health conditions, but only if they choose on their own to visit green spaces.

While being advised to spend time outdoors can encourage such activity, it can also undermine the potential emotional benefits, according to the authors of the study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that people with depression were spending time in nature as often as folks with no mental health issues, and that people with anxiety were doing so much more often.

While in nature, those with depression and anxiety tended to feel happy and reported low anxiety. But those benefits appeared to be undermined when the visits were done at others’ urging, the investigators found.

The more external pressure people with depression and anxiety felt to visit nature, the less motivated they were to do so and the more anxious they felt.

“These findings are consistent with wider research that suggests that urban natural environments provide spaces for people to relax and recover from stress,” said study leader Michelle Tester-Jones, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

But the findings also show that health care practitioners and loved ones should be sensitive about recommending time in nature for people who have mental health issues.

“It could be helpful to encourage them to spend more time in places that people already enjoy visiting, so they feel comfortable and can make the most of the experience,” Tester-Jones said in a university news release.

More information

For more on the benefits of green spaces, go to the National Recreation and Park Association.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Nearly half of ‘essential workers’ in U.S. at risk for severe COVID-19

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Nov. 9 (UPI) — Nearly half of those classified as “essential workers” in the United States are at increased risk for severe COVID-19, according to an analysis published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

This means that more than 74 million workers and those with whom they live could be at risk for serious illness, based on disease risk guidelines developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers said.

“Many parts of the country face high and rising infection rates, [and] we should not think about work exposure and health risks in isolation, given that workers and persons at increased risk often live in the same households,” study co-author Thomas M. Selden told UPI.

“Insofar as we can reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, we can reduce the extent to which policymakers have to choose between the economy and keeping the population safe,” said Selden, an economist with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States in March, states and cities across the country have instituted lockdown measures designed to limit the spread of the disease.

Many of these measures entailed closing schools and non-essential businesses, with only banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses deemed to provide vital services allowed to stay open.

For this study, Selden and his colleagues analyzed data on the U.S. workforce to examine how many people were in essential jobs, how often they were able to work at home, their risk for severe COVID-19 and the potential health risks for their household members.

Of the more than 157 million workers across the country, 72% are in jobs deemed essential — based on U.S. Department of Homeland Security criteria — and more than three-fourths of all essential workers are unable to work at home, Selden said.

Essential workers include those in the medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics and energy, water and wastewater industries, as well as those in law enforcement and public works, the DHS criteria stipulates.

The study notes that up to 60% of these workers have underlying health issues, placing them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 if they get infected, as defined by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Those with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are considered to be at high risk for serious illness, the CDC says.

Based on these findings, between roughly 57 million and 74 million adults working in on-site essential jobs — and their families — are at increased risk for serious illness, Selden and his colleagues estimated.

“Policymakers face important decisions about how to balance the economic benefits of keeping workers employed and the public health benefits of protecting those with increased risk of severe COVID-19,” Selden said.

“These issues arise in the context of decisions to close segments of the economy and decisions about how to distribute vaccines, which will initially be available only with limited supply, [and] become all the more difficult when the prevalence of infection rises in parts of the country,” he said.



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Study: Hydroxychloroquine no better than placebo for hospitalized COVID-19 patients

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Nov. 9 (UPI) — COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine showed no signs of significant improvement in “clinical status” compared with those given a placebo, a study published Monday by JAMA found.

Patients given a five-day course of the drug were scored as “category six” based on the World Health Organization’s seven-category COVID Ordinal Outcomes Scale, the same as those given a placebo, the researchers said.

Also, 28 days after they started treatment, 10.4% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine died, just slightly lower than the 10.6% fatality rate in the placebo group.

“The results show that hydroxychloroquine did not help patients recover from COVID-19,” study co-author Dr. Wesley H. Self told UPI.

“In the study, patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and those treated with a placebo had nearly identical outcomes, [so] I do not foresee any role for hydroxychloroquine in acutely ill patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” said Self, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Hydroxychloroquine is an immunosuppressive and anti-parasitic drug that is used to treat malaria.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was touted by President Donald Trump and others as a potential treatment for the virus, despite the lack of any scientific data supporting its use.

Given its effectiveness helping those sickened with malaria — a mosquito-borne infection — to recover, “there was a strong rationale for why hydroxychloroquine may have been beneficial for patients with COVID-19,” according to Self.

However, in July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against the drug’s use in the treatment of those infected with the new coronavirus, due to potentially serious heart-related side effects.

For this study, Self and his colleagues treated 433 COVID-19 patients at 34 hospitals across the United States with either the drug or a placebo for a period of five days.

Patients assigned to the hydroxychloroquine group received 400 milligrams of the drug in pill form twice a day for the first two doses and then 200 mg. in pill form twice a day for the next eight doses, for a total of 10 doses over the five days.

All of the patients were then assessed based on the WHO’s COVID Ordinal Outcomes Scale, which categorizes those infected according to disease severity.

Most of the patients in both the hydroxycholorquine group and the placebo group were in “category six,” meaning they were hospitalized and receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or invasive mechanical ventilation to maintain their breathing, the researchers said.

“Our results, especially when combined from other studies conducted in the United Kingdom and Brazil, are good evidence that hydroxychloroquine does not provide benefit for patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” Self said.



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